“ I WANNA GO HOME!”
Telling a homesick camper to stop being homesick can sometimes be like trying to stop a runaway train with nothing more than your words. Children who are sick for home often cannot help the way they feel and their resulting reactions. True, the effects of homesickness can be minimized while a child is at camp, but better still is some “preventative maintenance” that can be done before a child comes to camp and which helps them work through these completely normal feelings. As a parent myself, I want my children to miss me when they are not at home. Hopefully they do. That’s a sign that they care for and love their mom and dad. But as a parent, I do not want those feelings to prevent them from being away from home, from having a good time when they are, or from growing up. Below are a few tips to help we parents and our children minimize the effects of homesickness during a weeks stay at camp. Doing the things listed below will help your child to get the most out of their camp experience.
Dr. Christopher Thurber at UCLA has done extensive research in the area of children’s experience of homesickness. He has come up with several suggestions for preventing homesickness before it appears.
"GETTING READY FOR CAMP!”
We all know getting ready for camp means pulling out the sleeping bag and flashlight, but if you are sending a child to camp for the first time, there is a lot of emotional prep work that needs to be done as well. Here are three “P’s” of Dr. Thurber’s tips:
1) Practice: Don’t let camp be the first time a child is away from home. That would be enough to handle, without the fact that it’s at least a week in an unknown place, often hundreds of miles from home. Weekends with grandparents or other family or friends are great “practice runs” even if your child doesn’t know it. They learn that they can leave home, that the world doesn’t fall apart when they do, and that they eventually return home having enjoyed great experiences.
2) Preview: Part of a child’s preparation will be knowing what to expect at camp. Talks with other campers who have been to camp before, seeing their pictures, or showing them pictures of the camp from our website at www.campnazareth.org can all help them preview what they will experience.
3) Prepare: Promising your child you’ll bring them home if they don’t have a good time is the same as saying “If you want to come home, make sure you don’t have a good time.” I’ve seen more than one homesick camper trying this as their best shot at getting home. Once a child knows they are at camp to stay, they will make the effort to have a good time, but not before. You can always change your mind later, but do your child the favor by not letting them in on the option of an early departure. All kids miss home when they are away (well, OK, maybe not the teens). That’s normal. Tell your child that they may feel this way and that it’s OK. Another big help is to let them know that you will be OK. Many kids’ homesickness comes from worrying about how parents are doing at home. Some good intentioned parents tell their kids, “Mommy and Daddy are going to miss you SO MUCH.” Instead of conveying love, it tells the kids you need them at home. Let them know that while you will miss them, you will be happy knowing they are having a great time.
"WELL, WE TRIED"
So, you did all that and still you have a hysterical child calling from the camp director’s office? If we at the camp think that an early departure is wise, we will tell you. If we do have to call, it’s probably a tactic being used in the camp’s treatment of the homesickness. The best thing you can do is support the plan the counselors and director are working on, which will probably include: letting the camper talk about his or her feelings without dwelling too long on them, writing letters and, most importantly, keeping busy. Receiving letters from home will be comforting (you may have to send one before the child leaves to arrive early in the session). Phone calls usually make homesickness worse, so please refrain from calling the Camp except for an emergency. If some time passes and the child isn’t able to deal better with the homesickness, the camp director may suggest an early departure. If that’s the case, it will be helpful to reinforce the fact that the child tried in the first place, and leave the door open for next year. With the right preparation and the right cooperation between parents and camp staff, your child can gain the invaluable experience of being OK away from home. While that is going on, parents can rest easy knowing their child is taking some great big steps toward growing up. Adapted from .
Much of the material for this article was taken from an araticle with the same title written by Fr. Michael Nasser. Fr.Michael Nasser was the Antiochian Village Camp Director from 1997-2006 and a Project Mexico Chaplain from 2006-2009. He is currently serving as the Orthodox Christian Fellowship North American Chaplain.